Cooking and food preparation skills strongly predict adolescents’ nutritional well-being in adulthood
12/23/2018 // Zoey Sky // Views

Learning how to prepare nutritious meals at a young age can help adolescents grow up as adults with healthy habits. The results of a study even suggest that being confident in one's cooking skills is associated with "fewer fast food meals, more meals as a family, and more frequent preparation of meals with vegetables in adulthood."

Cooking skills and proper dietary habits

The results of the study, which was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, imply that learning and developing cooking and food preparation skills is crucial for a person's health and nutrition. Sadly, not enough people are practicing home cooking and it's a barely being taught in school.

The researchers noted that helping young adolescents develop food preparation skills can "have long-term benefits for health and nutrition."

Dr. Jennifer Utter, the lead author of the study and an associate professor at the University of Aucklandsaid that learning food preparation skills at a young age doesn't have immediate benefits but show up later, in adulthood, when people have more chances to cook food and become responsible for preparing meals for themselves or others. She added that the study used data from a large, population-based sample size that was followed for over 10 years to fully determine the "impact of perceived cooking skills on later nutritional well-being." (Related: Familiarity with a variety of healthy foods through the early years leads children to good eating habits later.)

The researchers gathered data as part of the Project Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults longitudinal study, which was conducted in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, area schools. The volunteers reported on the adequacy of cooking skills from 2002 to 2003 when they were 18 to 23 years old.


From 2015 to 2016, data was gathered on nutrition-related outcomes when the volunteers were aged 30 to 35. They answered questions that quantified to the following:

  • The perceived adequacy of cooking skills.
  • How often they ate meals as a family.
  • How often they made meals that had vegetables.
  • How often they ate at a fast food restaurant.

According to the data, the majority of volunteers considered their cooking skills to be adequate at the ages of 18 to 23. At least a quarter of adults perceived their cooking skills to be very adequate. There were no differences in perceived cooking skills by factors like age, educational attainment, race or ethnicity, or sex.

The researchers noted that the perceived adequacy of cooking skills predicted various indicators of nutrition outcomes later in adulthood, such as a higher chance of cooking a meal with vegetables on most days and less frequent consumption of fast food.

The people with families who perceived their cooking skills as adequate ate family meals more, consumed fast food meals less frequently, and had fewer obstacles to food preparation.

Dr. Utter advised that as long as young adults have more opportunities to develop their cooking skills, there's a greater chance that they will reap the long-term benefits for nutritional well-being as adults. She concluded that aside from families, community agencies, educators, funders, and health and nutrition professionals should invest in home economics and cooking education since they offer long-term benefits that won't be fully realized, at least until young adults have more freedom and start living independently.

How to encourage your kids to eat healthy foods

It's important to establish healthy eating habits in young children, but if you're having trouble getting your young ones to eat more fruits and vegetables, follow the tips below:

  • Show your kids that you're excited about healthy foods. This lets them know that even adults love their fruits and veggies, and that maybe broccoli isn't such a scary vegetable after all.
  • Teach kids how to follow a healthy diet at a young age. They won't start acquiring a taste for fruits and vegetables unless you start feeding them nutritious meals while they're still young. Tell them to at least try something they think looks yucky at least once or twice so they can decide if they like how it tastes or not.
  • Cultivate an herb garden at home. Start small and let your kids know how rewarding it is to grow your own herbs or vegetables.
  • Let them help you plan and prepare some dishes. You can guide them while coming up with meal choices, but let them decide on the final meal. You can use meal planning to teach your kids about healthy diets like the Mediterranean or vegetarian diet, and you can talk to them about the difference between organic and conventional vegetables. Giving them a little responsibility will help them become more excited about the meals they're going to eat throughout the day.

Browse for articles with healthy recipes and tips on how to get kids to eat healthily.

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